In Both the Craft and Business of Photography, Practice Makes Perfect

I come across so many photographers who seem to think good things should just happen to them — and if they don’t, it’s their “bad luck.”

To that, I counter with one of my favorite sayings, by the Roman philosopher Seneca: “Luck is what happens when preparation meets opportunity.”

Even the Declaration of Independence doesn’t promise you happiness. It only says you have a right to pursue happiness. That’s very different; it puts the responsibility on you to make it happen.

When it comes to your photography business, that means professional success and fulfillment are up to you.

Hard Work, Day In and Out

Just because you’ve memorized the manual of your camera, or can follow-focus down the playing field or up the catwalk, or even can light a subject like Rembrandt, that doesn’t mean you are entitled to have your images grace the covers of the world’s greatest magazines.

In fact, you’re not even owed a drop of ink on the inside pages. And you’re not guaranteed Web traffic to your online portfolio, either.

Sure, you can always find some corner of the Internet that operates as a mutual “attaboy” club, telling you everything you post is an “awesome photo!” But that will get you exactly nowhere.

The photography landscape is littered with the roadkill of those who think they are entitled to success. But long-term, sustainable success — especially today — is not achieved by fancy photo tricks and online “attaboys.” It’s achieved by hard work, day in and day out.

Mastering Your Craft

I once had an opportunity to hear David Shenk talk about practicing a craft to succeed. Shenk, author of the book The Genius in All of Us, reflected on cellist Yo-Yo Ma and his path to success. The 10,000 hour rule certainly applies here — but Shenk had some additional wisdom to impart.

He talked about practicing with an intent to push yourself to the point of failure, so that you can embrace and learn from failure, and not be afraid of it. Discipline yourself to routinely move out of your comfort zone to get better and better at what you do.

In other words, no pain, no gain.

Don’t assume you’ve ever mastered your craft or any part of it. There’s always something you can do to become more proficient at lighting, framing an image, organizing a shoot, working with models, post-production, etc.

Press on — and know that there are other photographers out there doing the same, every day.

Mastering Your Business

The importance of hard work and pushing yourself to get better doesn’t only apply to the craft of photography. It holds equally true for the business side of your work.

So many talented photographers miss out on the chance at a full-time career because they aren’t willing to put in the effort necessary to operate as a freelancer.

I know photographers who pay great attention to detail when on a shoot, and yet are sloppy in interacting with their clients.

For example, a colleague of mine wrote to someone and addressed them as “Mrs.” The problem is, “she” is a he. Why bother sending a letter that tells the recipient you don’t know who they are, and don’t bother checking your own work?

Learning to pay attention to details, smiling and being upbeat when talking to clients, learning how to negotiate successfully — these skills come with practice, and a commitment to mastery.

Keep pushing yourself. You’ll never reach perfection, but you’ll enjoy the journey.

7 Responses to “In Both the Craft and Business of Photography, Practice Makes Perfect”

  1. Here's an "attaboy" for you.

    A great read and some strong advice.

    Thanks for posting.

  2. Good post. I enjoyed the read.

  3. Great post.

    Though, the Internet is an "attaboy" culture. Feedback can be its own currency. The more one gets, the more take notice.

  4. Hi John,

    There's a lot of learning in this short piece.

    We all suffer a little from our ego - some of us more than others - but you are right that hard work is what builds a business.

    I once heard a very successful architectural photographer say that it took him 15 years of hard work to become an overnight sensation. I doubt he works any less hard today.

    Thank you for the wise words.


  5. Get out there and shoot away, if you want to achieve your creative goals.

    Intense practice everyday - even when you have a busy client schedule - is the only way to grow.

    I suggest it to photographers who spend way too much time online looking at other people's work. You may be looking at pretty pictures, but you must practice executing them.

  6. Very good and informative post. I agree with most of what you say. To be a successful photographer that gets paid for work on a regular basis does require 'work.' But, I'm not so sure it requires 'hard work.' I think that it does require 'consistent' efforts and intentional work. Often, we photographers 'spin our wheels' doing something that does not contribute to our photography business success.

    I enjoy photography. I also enjoy business. I happen to think that many of us photographers see ourselves as 'artists' and we, mistakenly, think that 'artists' don't have to market their 'art.' Of course, that is not the case. Also, the 'artist' tag that we put on ourselves doesn't lend itself to 'customer service.' No business, including photography business, can succeed without good customer service. And good customer service must be intentional and it usually takes long term consistency.

    Very good post.

  7. Thanks for the advice.

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